My wife picked a bike (with trainer wheels) for my 3yo son. It only has a front brake. Having gone over the handlebars once when I was just using the front brake, I'm a bit worried about this. Should I be?

(Now that the bike has arrived, it has a rear coaster brake.)

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    Are you certain the vibe doesn't have a rear brake? Children's bikes usually have coaster brakes rear. These are actuated by back-pedalling. Try if the cranks spin freely backwards or if they are stopped. Then check if that also brakes the rear wheel.
    – gschenk
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 8:08
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    coaster brake == mad-skidz time !
    – Criggie
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 9:01
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    @Criggie Short distance schmort distance. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 11:13
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    This is normal for kids bikes. The rear hub contains a "coaster brake" activated by pedaling backwards, and that is the primary braking force. The front brake is there mostly because kids think it's neat, but also because two independent brakes are required in some countries. Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 23:13
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    If you're going over the handlebars when using the front brake, you need to improve your technique. On clean tarmac, using just the front brake is the usual way to stop.
    – Batman
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 2:52

4 Answers 4


For one, your kid's bike likely has a coaster brake. Check that. If it doesn't, either add a second brake or buy a bike with a coaster brake.

Apart from the danger of going over the bars, there is also this: Every vehicle must have two independent brake systems, otherwise it's simply not fit for the road. This is independent of the type of vehicle, and bikes are no exception.

This is both a legal thing (at least in my country, and very likely in any other sane jurisdiction), and a safety issue: Brakes can, and do fail. You don't want your child sitting on its bike going downhill when the cable actuating the brake fails, and not have a backup available. You must have a backup to avoid the worst. I have completely lost track of how many braking cables I've managed to tear, and I've been very thankful for my coaster brake each time.

So, as I said, either your child's bike has a coaster brake, or you need to do something about it.

Daniel R Hicks tells me that some US states allow coaster-brake-only bikes. So, I guess, I have to exclude the US legal system from the list of sane jurisdictions. Maybe they see it as a personal freedom to be allowed to endanger yourself?

Anyway, while your state may allow you to use a coaster-brake-only bike, the safety issue remains: Chains can and do jump off the sprocket, or even break. Especially when they are older and lengthened from wear. If that happens going downhill on a coaster-brake-only bike, you are screwed. If you care about safety, one-brake bikes are just a no-no.

  • "Every vehicle must have two independent brake systems, otherwise it's simply not fit for the road." I very much doubt the asker is going to let their three-year-old child cycle anywhere near a road. Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 16:32
  • @DavidRicherby That depends on how long the kid keeps the bike. I remember that I was already quite an active biker when I was six (just three years older). Of course, many kids will already have their second bike when they actually get out to the street, others may keep their first bike longer. In any case, if I were a parent, I would teach my child to use the bike, not to let it rot in the shed, and that most certainly includes small trips together with the child through the neighborhood as early as I can trust my child not to do too stupid stuff. Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 17:22
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    @cmaster I would expect a 3yo's bike to be way too small by the time they're six but I don't have kids so maybe I'm overestimating how fast they grow. Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 18:40
  • "Maybe they see it as a personal freedom to be allowed to endanger yourself?" and the others, too: in Michigan winter/snow tyres are not compulsory. Yes, the argument is "you should rely on your skills and if you cannot drive on snow you should not drive.". Results: regular pile up of ugly pickups
    – EarlGrey
    Commented Nov 16, 2020 at 8:26

Small children usually do not have a grip strong enough to brake effectively with brake levers on the handle bars.

Neither do they have enough coordination to modulate brakes. This means if they were able to brake the front wheel effectively they would indeed be at risk to go over the bars.

Typically, children's bikes have coaster brakes. These allow to stop by back pedaling. Which is an elegant solution: If the child is capable of accelerating by pedaling, the child is also capable of braking by performing the inverse motion.

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    I witnessed a case where the child was not capable of braking, namely going down a moderately steep hill; I think they had the strength but not the technique. Since the road fed into a larger one which could have had traffic, I rode alongside them down the hill ready to push them onto the verge until I could see that it was safe for them to roll out into the larger road.
    – PJTraill
    Commented Sep 24, 2018 at 17:49
  • Further to my previous comment, I feel you should qualify If the child is capable etc. with on the level, and replace also capable of braking ... motion with strong enough to brake ... motion, once it masters the technique, since back-pedalling can seem unaccustomed.
    – PJTraill
    Commented Sep 25, 2018 at 23:16

Everyone has to fall off their bike sooner or later. I get my kids to ride around on grass secure in the knowledge they will crash or fall and learn an important lesson before they're old and big enough to hit the road.

So while I pad them up and have helmets, I don't go overboard on worrying about their safety.

Should you worry?

Not unduly, if the child is riding on grass and reasonably dressed then they should be fine.


This is a judgement call depending on the kid, the terrain, and the bike.

My kids have balance bikes with no brakes at all. We don't ride them in hills or traffic. These bikes are a good way to learn how to steer and balance in a controlled environment.

My kids later graduated to fixed gear bikes with a front brake only. I consider the fixed gear to be "half a brake", but I would be a little nervous to have them ride a freewheel bike with only one brake. But again it depends on the terrain.

BMX racing bikes have only rear brakes. But they have no need to stop on hills, and there's no traffic or pedestrians on BMX tracks. Of course track racing bikes usually have no brakes at all besides the fixed gear.

Personally I think coaster brakes are terrible. I know there's a theory that they are better for kids but they really only exist for cost reasons. They aren't easy to use, even for kids. With the proper sized levers and grips, kids as young as 4 can use hand brakes. An under-appreciated problem is grips that are too thick. Better kids bikes such as Spawn have handlebars with 3/4" tubing instead of 7/8". I build my custom kids bikes with 1/2" tubing for any kids under 8. It is much easier for them to grip and reach brakes. When I have to use standard size tubing, I usually remove the grips and use a single layer of bar tape to reduce the diameter.

Overall I think that having two hand brakes is the best, but again it depends on the kid, the bike, and how controlled the environment is. Hand brakes are no use at all if the kid can't use them effectively when needed. Same with coaster brakes.

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